It was with considerable disappointment that I read Daily Planet reporter Judith Scherr’s gossip column in Tuesday’s paper (April 25). I and many others had hoped that the Daily Planet was going to be a real paper with serious, objective reporting about the myriad activities going on in Berkeley. You had such a promising beginning with mature reports, which really served to inform. Lately it has seemed that the paper has developed a point of view which is that things are rotten in Berkeley and everyone is trying to get away with something. A report on an interesting and exciting UC-sponsored panel of thoughtful, intelligent people who get things done in Berkeley, discussing their hopes and concerns for Berkeley’s future, was reported in a denigrating and derogatory way. An attempt on the part of the city staff to inform Berkeley residents about many interesting things going on in Berkeley, through an annual report mailed to every address in town, was dismissed as costing $30,000 to create and mail city-wide, and as having a few typographical errors. (I noticed that the distasteful gossip column had many such errors itself.) What about the content of the report and how about interviewing some of the “non-regulars” about what they thought of the report?
My surveys show that few Berkeley residents feel they know enough about what’s happening in their town and I would like to know how they felt about the Annual Report, wouldn’t you? Over and over I hear from constituents and friends that they won’t get involved in Berkeley because of the mean-spirited and hostile environment they meet in public meetings and committees. I think this is a shame, because we have so many talented people who are sitting on the sidelines. Another paper with a sneering, dismissive attitude only adds to the problem.
I am well aware that it isn’t a newspaper’s job to act as a cheerleader for the city. I think, however, it is a paper’s job to cover all kinds of real stories, not just internecine battles, and reach out to a varied group of people to get reactions and information, not just a standard group of folks with predictable negative responses. At the risk of sounding like a cheerleader myself, I think Berkeley is a great city that’s getting better all the time. I know firsthand that there are a lot of hardworking people making these improvements. Inevitably there will be tension and division as we move ahead, but a paper which wants to serve its community will focus on real issues, not petty backbiting, and I would certainly hope a real paper would not print scurrilous gossip as amusing filler. There are real people affected by these hateful, anonymous charges and there is no need to provide a wider venue for their pain.
The Planet, as it begins its second year, can continue to become a mouthpiece for the well-known chronically angry and disenchanted few, following up on their conspiracies and complaints. Or it can try to take the more difficult route of reflecting a varied population which understands that it takes a lot of work to create a vibrant city and that most people are trying to pull together to get things done ... even though they may disagree along the way.
Councilmember Polly Armstrong represents District 8.